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The Roanoke Times | File
A horse fell into a trench while contractors built new tunnels under Campbell Avenue in 1904.
Monday, April 22, 2013
There are some great questions in the pipeline, but before answering them I thought I’d take this week to provide some more detail on a recent column.
The underground streams beneath Roanoke prompted several readers to reminisce about the old bar in the basement of the Ponce de Leon Hotel, long located in downtown’s Crystal Tower building, which is now under renovation. Joyce Hodges of Salem and others recalled hearing of a wishing well and goldfish pond there, though they never saw it.
Former Roanoke Times reporter and current volunteer extraordinaire George Kegley confirmed that the bar — called the Pipe Room — had a stream running through it and was home to many off (and sometimes on) duty reporters seeking refuge from the newsroom, though he said that longtime columnist Ben Beagle knew it better than he. Before the Pipe Room the Trout House stood in the same location and was home to one of Roanoke’s first taverns.
Bruce Harper of Blacksburg says that the spot where Lick Run emerges near the Norfolk Southern shops is the source of Roanoke’s original name of Big Lick because that’s where a large game-attracting salt lick was.
Several readers say they’ve spelunked the underground passages. One of them is Mike Hutchison, who posted to the blog, “I’ve been through the storm drains under Roanoke, but I wouldn’t recommend that people go out and do it. There’s rats, raw sewage from leaking pipes, and the water can be quite deep in spots. And it’s completely dark. There’s LOTS of fish down there — chubs and suckers. They like the cool water, and feed on the ‘solids’ from leaking sewer lines.” He also reports finding an old pistol, which he promptly turned over to the police.
The construction of the underground tunnels has been written about quite a bit in these pages over the years, and I’ll close by sharing my favorite story, which was emailed by William R. and Judith Markley Baumgardner in the form of a copy of an old newspaper clipping from the 1960s.
Some of the streams had been buried in the 1880s using tunnels reinforced by wood, and by 1900 those timbers had rotted and it was time to do the job properly. Contractor Christopher Markley got the job and reinterred the creek below Campbell Avenue with steel and concrete in 1904.
During the dig, a horse fell into the construction trough. Workers rushed to place belts underneath the horse and attached those to cables and were winching him up, but each time his feet hit the ground “the poor beast went frantic,” making final rescue impossible. Finally someone noticed that the pulleys and wires were hitting the electrified streetcar cables, and each time he touched ground it was completing the circuit with a jolt that would have been fatal to a human. Once they remedied the problem, the horse was returned to solid ground unscathed.
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